Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Priorities

Some mornings elicit a richer depth of reflection than others. This morning brought me to some rich conclusions which have ricocheted me back to my priorities which are the following:

  • deep, student-centered focus on creating a robust, effective, standards-based, engaging and empowering education program.
  • continual attention to the learning environment with regard to organization, access to learning/teaching tools, and student autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • enriching my ability to teach math and science in ways that matter
  • continually developing my ability to communicate well in order to collaborate and develop my practice 
In the end, it is my goal to be the best teacher I can, to put my students, their families, and my colleagues first in this endeavor, and to use these skills to affect the community beyond school and at home in ways that matter. Onward. 

Teacher Leadership and Speaking Your Truth

In many school systems, teachers do not lead. Teachers in those systems don't have voice, choice, or leadership. Instead they are left out of the important conversations, decisions, and debate that lead a system forward. Yet they are the people who have studied education, work with students everyday, and are given the task of developing their craft, knowledge, and practice continually.

Of course I am a fan of teacher leadership and I am also a fan of re-looking at and redesigning educational systems so that those systems are more modern, positive, and inclusive. I believe that we should take the research seriously that supports autonomy, mastery, and purpose as main structures that lead to organization success. I believe we should look at ways to lesson the numbers of administrators and those without direct time on task with students in favor of more hybrid roles where educators lead and teach at the same time. I've proposed organizational structures to  administration and continue to look for ways to positively build this kind of system where I teach.

One important element of teacher leadership is the ability to speak your truth without ridicule, reprimand, or threats. There needs to be positive, authentic channels for educator share--the kind of share that truly uplifts the work we do. Research demonstrates that this is a need in schools everywhere since recent reports point to the dismal results of traditional professional learning events in schools. What can we do to uplift educator share that results in greater teacher voice, choice, and leadership?

I think that share has to be coupled with metrics, facts, and research too. Often people share, but we never really analyze the benefits of the work relayed. There's lots of conjecture and hearsay involved, but few facts. How can we change this? What is the best ways to collect and analyze evidence in this regard? We may analyze, but we may not be using the best evidence or analytical processes for this work.

First, I think it would be a good idea to create protocols for share. Protocols that work against the ridicule, insults, and threats that teacher share sometimes receives. Next I think it's important to think about teacher voice and choice, and where that's advantageous. For example, I teach a lot of math. One area of share that I would really like is the ability to hear my colleagues share their best practices. Currently, due to very tight curriculum parameters and expectations, many educators are afraid to share as they are afraid that their share will demonstrate deviation from the tight parameters and expectations, and therefore their share will become evidence of insubordination. When rules, parameters, and expectations are too tight, unattainable, and perhaps outdated or ill-directed, this creates a culture of silence where people don't want to share for fear of reprimand or reprisal.

Instead, a culture that welcomes innovation, bright ideas, apt curation, and share also welcomes open exchange, trusting collaboration, and good growth. So it's essential to think as a system, where is share desired, and how can we create processes that invite apt exchange and collaboration. With that share, we should also increasingly ask those that present their ideas and practice to include evidence about why they believe the practice they share is positive--what do the formal and informal assessments related to this practice show?

We should also be able to create and discuss goals too. Goals need to be inclusive, well-directed, and the result of good process. The more that all stakeholders own the goals, the better those goals will succeed, and it's best if those goals are based on critical needs that answer the questions:
  • What do we really stand for?
  • Why do we believe in these goals--what's our collective rationale?
  • How are we going to measure our success with these goals in ways that are truthful and helpful with relation to our continued positive growth as an organization?
It's essential that teaching/learning organizations are inclusive organizations where all stakeholders have voice and choice. It's also essential that these organizations are trusting organizations that invite collaboration, innovation, and positive growth and change. Further, the processes we use to forward goals and growth need to be modern, streamlined, inviting, and representative of inclusive voice, choice, and leadership, and those processes need to be transparent so that people can look to them again and again to gain direction, understand how to partake in systemwide efforts, and stay faithful and respectfully work for change. 

Teachers need to speak their truth, respect each others voices, and work for the best possible teaching/learning communities for all students, families, educators, administrators, and community members. The potential to elevate the places where we teach and learn each day is amazing--we can do better, and how we move in that direction matters. This is a message to self as well as others. I will continue to think on the subject as I complete my daily study and teaching efforts. Fortunately the level of share I enjoy with my grade-level team and close colleagues is beneficial and I will continue to think about how that share may grow systematically and beyond. Onward. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Moving the Curriculum Program Forward: Math and Science


This is an example of the learning menu that will be hosted on our grade level web page. 
This is the bonus section of that learning menu.
Last Saturday's ATMIM conference filled me with new ideas related to math teaching and learning. Yesterday and last night I had the chance to incorporate the first idea which is to better organize the students' math learning menu.

Jenifer Carline @jenifercarline shared the way she organizes her students' math learning menu which has students completing multiple activities that touch upon the many ways to learn math. Yesterday the student teacher and I worked on creating this newly structured menu, one that students will embark on next week as the student teacher rolls out her unit on coordinate grids.

Further, last night, I learned of our systems' elementary school goal while watching the district school committee meeting. The goal's catch title is "FOSS Fever" which essentially means teaching expected FOSS units with enthusiasm, engagement, and good knowledge and pedagogy. That's a perfect match for my upcoming professional day aimed at reading and research all expected information about our fifth grade physical science unit and matching that information with our environmental study grant and other grade five units of study. To grow the curriculum in ways that are meaningful for students is a worthy goal for educators and systems. I look forward to this work.




Monday, October 29, 2018

At School Focus On Your Professional Efforts

While at school, focus on your professional efforts.

Have a ready list of what it is you are expected to and hope to do.

Prioritize that list and match it with the time you have.

When resources, supports, and structures are needed or unavailable, find ways to reach out for those resources, structures, and supports to make the work you do better.

Make sure that the time scheduled for students is mainly spent on caring for, teaching, and leading students forward.

Stay attuned, do the work, and make time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation too.

Onward.


Lessons I Wish I Learned Earlier

As a teacher of many years, there are a number of lessons I wish I learned earlier in my career--lessons that I believe help teachers to teach and collaborate well. As a supervising teacher with a talented student teacher, these lessons have come to mind:
  • Your supervisor, boss, or administrator is not your friend--it's important to establish respectful professional relationships with those that direct and lead your work
  • You have a right to work without insult, inappropriate behavior, or ridicule, if you face that kind of behavior, you have to kindly and respectfully speak up
  • Be prepared--plan and prep ahead to stay ready to teach well for your students and colleagues
  • Use professional speak and respect at all times
  • Always speak or write in ways that you are comfortable with all people hearing and knowing about
  • Do more than expected, yet be reasonable with yourself and your expectations
  • Advocate with evidence, respect, and good purpose for what you believe to be good pedagogy, resources, and change
  • Continually learn and enrich your professional repertoire
  • Reach out beyond your school to learn with others in different and beneficial ways
  • Get to the top of the pay scale as soon as possible with extra study and credentials--having a good salary matters to doing good work
  • Join your local, state, and national unions because unions protect teacher voice and choice which allows us to do our work better
  • Work with colleagues to teach well and make promising change
  • Have a personal  life and as much as possible keep that personal life separate from your professional life--we all need time and space to relax with those we love, and we also need time to engage in the activities that bring us joy and happiness.
  • Do your best everyday
  • Face your challenges and work on your own and with good supports to make better
  • Be positive as much as possible
  • See the promise in problems
  • Believe in the potential your students hold for their own lives and the lives of others--support your students and their families in every way possible
  • Establish positive routines, stick to them, and reflect and revise as needed
I'm sure I'll think of more important lessons to add to this list, and I know it's important to impart rules of the teaching/learning role to student teachers as they embark on their professional careers aimed at teaching children well and building dynamic learning communities.  Onward. 

Improve Science Study

I will host the study results on the grade-level physical science website which is available to support the learning community in this regard. 
Like a heavy backpack, I've been carrying around the need to update the physical science study work for my students. With analysis, I realized that what I needed to do this work was a good eight to ten hours of uninterrupted study. With that in mind, I reached out to the principal in the school and asked for a professional day to do that work. The day was granted, and now I'm thinking about what it is that I need to do to improve my teaching in this area. My work will include the following:

  • Rereading and studying all related materials 
  • Revisiting past efforts 
  • Organizing a learning path including about six to ten learning experiences
  • Outlining each learning experience with related videos, activities, information, and materials
  • Scheduling the teaching on the year's calendar
  • Potentially choosing one or two upcoming learning events to support this study
  • Reaching out to expert visitors and potential field experiences to support this study
  • Integrating this study, where possible, into our year-long River Studies Grant, a year long environmental study with students in conjunction with Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm educators and naturalists
In the end, I hope that I'll have a good teaching/learning map which will set me up to better teach the physical science unit to fifth graders. Good professional learning doesn't always have to be attendance at a course or conference. Sometimes this work is best done on your own with a day of uninterrupted study, planning, and prep. 

Boston Strong and Smart

I'm not a big sports fan, but I do love what sports does for a community. Good sports with positive play and teamwork provide a pastime, pleasure, and celebration for the community. I particularly love the way that these games give family members who are retired or house bound, wonderful entertainment and a sense of belonging to the greater culture.

On the news the other night, parents of a young women who lost her life during the Red Sox last pennant win due to being hit by a pellet gun, spoke out about responsible celebration and encouraged fans to not only be Boston Strong, but to be Boston Smart too. I like that and I was happy to hear that last night's win resulted in little damage and no personal harm. That's good.

I think it's positive for a community to focus on being strong, smart, and kind too. Saying hello to one another, reaching out and learning about people in the community, and giving back too can all help to grow communities in ways that matter. I'll be thinking about this today as I work with colleagues and students to build our strong, smart, caring community at school. We all play important roles in this kind of work and living.

Gently Reach for Better in Self and Others

Sometimes we beat ourselves up when we err, and sometimes we're impatient and intolerant with others who make mistakes. This does no one any good. What works much better is to be gentle with error in self and others.

Don't just ignore and accept error, instead face error in self and others with care and compassion. For example, let's say you have a challenge that you continually come up against--coach yourself kindly to betterment with a step-by-step plan. Similarly perhaps a colleague, family member, or friend has a persistent error. In that case don't accept that error, but instead kindly approach that person in your midst with words of redirection and acknowledgement that the error is problematic, troubling, and needs to stop. And, know the words, events, and issues that trigger error with regard to your actions and others behavior.

We know this is much easier to write about than to do. Errors, particularly persistent ones are like sores that doesn't go away--those errors can be painful, hurtful, and obstruct the good work and living possible.

As I think of areas of persistent error in myself, I think of that phrase, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." While I don't believe that phrase, I know that it is more difficult to change a bad habit and correct error the more those habits and errors are ingrained in your behavior.

One of the best ways to work against error is to create routines that move you away from that kind of behavior. Another way is to be upfront about the challenge and enlist the support of others. A third way is to replace the bad habit with a more positive behavior or effort.

Error and bad habits will be part of everyone's landscape as they navigate life. There are errors today that we may not even be aware of, but will come to light later. This is part of life.

As I think about supporting others with regard to error, it's okay to simply use phrases like this:
  • I don't support that kind of language or effort
  • Those words or actions make me uncomfortable
  • Can you explain why you do that because it doesn't seem right or positive
  • Can I help you at this moment as you seem upset, worried, or troubled?
  • You often speak this way or act that way, and that worries me, how can I help you make better choices or do differently--what promotes those unhealthy, unhappy, or worrisome words and actions?
Most people want to do what is right and good, and all people face struggle from time to time with who they are and what they do. I believe we do well when we help ourselves and one another in ways that are truthful, kind, positive, and forward moving, and I want to coach myself in that direction. 



Sunday, October 28, 2018

With humility, I write

As one who sees big, but still lives within the confines of an imperfect humanity, I write with humility. Everywhere I look I see potential for betterment and good living. I know what it takes to forward a better world, yet with my imperfect self, I don't always live up to that vision. I become frustrated when injustice, oppression, or abuse reigns. I am not patient at times like these. Also my thoughts skip randomly like smooth stones tossed into the water and I see more in pictures than singular words which makes my concept paths sometimes hard to follow. I like big ideas, change, and explosions of creativity. Colors brighten my spirit and nature brings me home. I am, like others, a unique and imperfect set of characteristics.

Yet I won't let my imperfection keep me silent when my vision for betterment is so clear. I will share what I have to say, question, and reach out if I believe my words and work will promote what is right and good. Too many let their imperfect humanity stand in the way of their words, thoughts, and actions, and then we miss out on those people's unique lens, perspective, experience, and selves.

I encourage you to share who you are, what you believe, and where you are going. Don't let imperfection hinder your journey, but instead reach out with humility and honesty, work with others, and together we will make a better world. I know this is possible.

The Days Ahead: Refining, Revising, Recreating

The days ahead will find me refining, revising, and recreating curriculum efforts to meet students' needs and interests as well as systemwide expectations. What does that entail?

Focus on Math, Math RTI, Reading RTI, Student/Family Conferences/Portfolios
This is the mainstay of my work in the next month. I want to work on refining the routines in place and teaching planned. There's much to do in this regard.

Science Lessons
In December, I'll begin going deep with physical science unit for my class and the first rotation of another homeroom class. That means I need to carve out some good time prior to December to do a lot of reading, curriculum prep, and study. I'll likely do that in a few weeks as time permits.

Special Events
Our main special events are planned for the year, and there's only one that requires a bit more leg work on my behalf. I'll work on that in mid-November if I don't hear a reply from the agency I'm working with by then.

Long Term
Timeless Learning sits like a yummy chocolate bar on my bureau awaiting that day when I have an afternoon of good energy and uninterrupted time so I can savor that book.

Positive Routine
Every year introduces a new routine given changing family dynamics and work expectations. It seems that I'm finally settling into a good work/home pattern this year so I'll work to refine and follow that pattern in the days ahead always knowing that unexpected events are likely to occur as that's a regular part of teaching and parenting.

Life demands constant reflection, revision, and direction. When we give life this focus, we are able to craft so many good times and positive accomplishments. This is important.

Encouragement and Discouragement

Much like the little cartoon to the right teaching, like learning, has its ups and downs. As I look through past posts, I can see times of utter frustration to times of wonderful triumph and everything in between. Similar to life, teaching is not a flat path, but a path of hills, valleys, and plateaus.

As I look forward in my career, and think about the goals that I have for my practice, I want to acknowledge this bumpy career path that I've chosen, a path with lots of people, tremendous activity, and considerable change. I like the fact that in many ways it's not a static job, and it's a job where I'm active with a great variety of activities and events.

One challenge to teaching well is the time available and how one uses that time. Sometimes issues that create struggle arise from a lack of good time, space, and support to do the work required. This kind of challenge can nag at us if we don't plan well and think creatively about the time, space, and supports we have.

For example, with regard to relatively new curriculum, there's never been substantial time to organize, review, prepare, and then teach this module even though I do have the equipment and space to teach the information in engaging ways. I'll set aside a day or two in the month ahead to do this prep work, work if done well will serve teaching well into the future.

Also, in education, there can be gnawing problems. For example I long for more transparent, open, communicative teaching/learning environments where factual information is shared readily via newsletters and time when we meet as educators is used well to share ideas, develop our work, and empower our teaching/learning community. I want to see processes streamlined, hierarchy mostly flattened, greater leadership for all teachers, and greater teacher voice and choice with regard to curriculum decisions, schedules, timelines, and change. One struggle that teachers often face is that they are not treated with respect or care, but instead treated as if they are children. I believe this may occur more in elementary schools than higher level schools, but I'm not sure. To truly make change with regard to teacher leadership, voice, and choice demands that system roles, structures, and schedules change, without change old time, oppressive structures will remain. When educators' needs are heard and responded to with dedication and respect, learning communities develop in positive ways, however when educators' needs are dismissed or ridiculed, then learning communities suffer.

Today I'll make a more realistic and doable schedule for the curriculum work I need to do ahead, and work at refining the work and study that I'm focused on now. Yesterday's ATMIM Conference gave me many great ideas and resources to pull from for that development. Onward.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Professional Effort and Evaluation


Most teachers in Massachusetts have set goals and now it's time to dig into those goals. It's also time when evaluators begin to drop in to assess your teaching. On rainy days like this, it's a good time to review the expectations and make plans to meet the expected teaching/learning standards outlined above.

I started writing my 2018-2019 goals last spring and they changed many times before I chose math practice and environmental education as my respective student learning and professional practice goals. I'm delighted with both goals and have already done a lot to date to get the work started to meet the goals.

Also as I re-looked at the 2018 update for professional expectations related to classroom teachers, I noticed that there are a few new and/or revised expectations to account for including culturally proficient communication, high expectations, and well structured lesson/unit design.

I think it's best for educators to map out their year, then as they meet the various standards' goals, upload and/or save evidence at that time. Then educators won't be burdened with a heavy job at the tired end of the school year.

For me, it's now a matter of staying the course set and working to meet every child's needs and interests as I work to meet the goals. Onward.

Great Learning at ATMIM Conference



Today I attended and presented at the ATMIM Math Conference. It was very inspiring to be in the midst of math enthusiasts and educators.

I began the day with informal conversation with a couple of math educators about their current challenges, goals, and accomplishments. I was excited to learn about a practice used at some schools which is Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). The teacher I spoke to, Timothy Marum, has had a year to visit multiple schools, read, and research about how to elevate blended learning in math classes in the system. He was clearly excited about this opportunity, and later presented the tremendous learning he has done.

During the first session, I attended Jenifer Carline's presentation about blended learning at elementary school. With Jenifer's permission, I linked her presentation with my presentation so I could incorporate her many terrific ideas to my teaching program. Jenifer regularly uses IXL in her classroom, and I learned that's a platform our system is exploring as well.

I presented during the second session. My presentation which is linked above described many of the tech tools and efforts I use to teach math. At the start of the presentation, I asked the participants to share a few sentences about where they teach and what pedagogy they use that they are most excited about. I included their wonderful ideas and share in the at the end of my presentation so that I can dig deeper into that information later.

At the break out session during lunch, Jennifer Fairbanks discussed how to elevate relationships with students. She discussed saying hello, acknowledging birthdays by playing students' favorite songs during the walk-in time, making good luck rocks for students to put on their desks during tests and quizzes, and prior to tests she give students time without pencils to strategize, share, and think about the test or quiz ahead--this slowed students down and helped them to do a better job on tests. She made time for students to get to know one another too using Google slides. Students make their own slides as does the teacher to create a scrapbook about the class that helps students to get to know one another and create community.

ST Math was presented as well during the break out session. ST stands for spacial-temporal. It is a personalized learning platform that is looking for 75 new schools to add to their schools and are willing to provide the platform via grants for the next three years. Beverly just received this grant, and the well researched and regarded site is eager to attract schools and provide these grants.  This platform is particularly good for EL students since there it is primarily visual and there are few to no words. The program invites productive struggle which builds deep conceptual understanding of math as well as growth mindset and perseverance in math. Student data is also provided via this program.

Karen Campe discussed her use of "My Favorite Puzzles on Twitter" and invited us to follow her @karencampe and take a look at the many puzzles offered via the following Twitter addresses:
  • @YohakuPuzzle or www.yohaku.ca
  • @Cshearer41 for geometry puzzles
  • @solvemymaths by Ed Southall
#MTBOS and #edchatri (8pm on Sundays) Twitter connections were recommended as well.

Many math teachers are using Google classroom and all the Google apps as well to streamline and improve instruction. We learned about a new math platform named Graspable Math and there is currently a research study related to this tool that involves a math game. I can't wait to look this over since I've been hungry to find good math resources for students in my class that love gaming. A strength in this program is to help students look at equations forward and backward rather than the typical left to right direction. Christine Heffernan from WPI, the individual who introduced my school system to Assistments introduced this too.

Timothy Marum @tmarum23, a tech integration specialist from Rhode Island, presented a thought provoking blended learning presentation that began with a great video about the future of work:


Tim is the individual I met earlier in the day who is a TOSA teacher so I was excited to hear about his research. Tim shared the popular quote, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." He noted that to change by 10% is a reasonable regular goal. He noted that the choices can be overwhelming, but begin with one, celebrate what you do, and then try more.

He spoke about the beliefs related to teaching mathematics beginning with how we use Google forms in math class. One teacher uses it once a week with the question, "I wish my teacher knew" and students complete that sentence which provides that teacher with great ways to respond to student needs in a quiet, personalized way. He also collected information about the room with Google forms and shared that data with us with Google Form metrics. Tim introduced the book Fish as well as productive and unproductive beliefs about teaching and learning mathematics:

He also reintroduced me to Dan Meyers' Table Talk work, work I would like to replicate more in my class. It was exciting to hear participants describe how they use this approach to engage students and deepen student learning. It was noted that it takes time to build that kind of culture with students. How we update tasks is important. We need to make the tasks more student-friendly while not reducing the rigor or deep learning available.

A big emphasis of the day was how we lead good learning with Mathematics Teaching Practices, which emphasized that we should let the students do the hard work. Let the students utilize the Standards of Mathematical Practice. Use student evidence, provoke their thinking, and make their work, ideas, strategies, and processes transparent and visible in the classroom.

Teachers should do this:
Students should do this:

So many great resources were shared such as The Right Question Institute, Kaplinski's work including the open middle, clothesline math,  My Favorite NO,  Go Formative, and edreports.com,  Accountable Talk posters to help students with their math talk, Quizlet Live and shutter folds for math notebooks.

In the end, the entire day was a productive day which made me realize once again how important it is to attend professional learning efforts regularly to update your practice, find out what's going on in the greater teaching/learning community, share with colleagues, and challenge yourself to try something new and/or better. ATMNE's next conference is in December and then there will be another ATMIM conference in April. I recommend that Math teachers in New England join ATMIM/ATMNE to connect with a preK-higher ed community of math teachers and learners as one way to develop your practice into the future.


Saturday Study: Teaching Well

Today I'll attend and present at the ATMIM Conference. While I must say that I don't always look forward to giving up a Saturday for more teaching and learning, I am always afterward since I take away good ideas and new inspiration for teaching well.

There are many inviting sessions, however I had to choose so I decided to focus in on what I do to promote a blended learning math environment as well as what others do. This will be a good way to reflect on and better the work I do with students as a math teacher. I plan to go to the following sessions:



Attending conferences and learning with other teachers definitely helps educators to grow their practice. I look forward to the learning today. Onward.


Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday Musings: October 27, 2018

It was another good day that found students catching up on math practice, reading, and preparing showcase portfolios for fall family-student-teacher conferences (I want a better title for these meetings and I'll think on that--let me know if you have an idea).

Next week finds students solidifying their knowledge of addition and subtraction of decimals with multiple models, standard algorithms, estimation, and problem solving. We'll also continue our RTI math game focus and book groups. The week will include deep talk about student services and math learning too. It's another rather routine week which means it's a good time to work to meet our many academic and social emotional goals. Onward.

Honest Positivity Reigns

We all know the difference between authentic positivity and dishonest positivity. Authentic positivity is energizing. One colleague in particular is exemplary in this regard--she's mostly authentically positive, and that positivity acts like a magnet pulling people towards her often. I love the way her honest positivity inspires and energizes me. It's contagious.

On the other hand, if we are positive without honesty or authenticity, our positivity actually has an opposite effect--dishonest positivity leaves people with distrust, questions, and a less confidence and energy.

As I consider the multiple issues that affect teachers each and every day, I'm thinking about how we can address those issues with positivity. What consistent remarks can we turn to when issues arise, remarks that are positive and proactive.

The Promise in the Problem
First, we can immediately say to ourselves, "What is the promise in this problem?" What need, potential, or change is this problem revealing? For example a problem I faced yesterday was small, yet to address this problem and find a solution is to help us a lot if a bigger and deeper similar problem arises. The promise in that problem is that we need to solidify the routine so response is quicker and more targeted for problems like that.

A problem with a bus issue last week pointed to the need to more accurately confirm bus requests with good lead time and better paperwork. We may need to put both a verbal and written bus confirmation process in place. The promise in that problem is that we can create a better process.

A problem with processing grant funding points to the need for the system to think about how they will deal with grants overall--what processes are in place for grant management and oversight? Is the system interested in acquiring more grants, and if so, who and how should be move forward in that regard.

A problem with staffing pointed to multiple questions that will be posed at a building management meeting by an educator who sits in on that meeting and then answers will be relayed at a regular student service meeting.

Smile
Sometimes when you are working with issues with students, a good resolve is to simply and thoughtfully smile. True smiles have a magical affect on students, and is one positive way to begin dealing with children's serious issues.

Questioning 
Questioning is another positive way to deal with conflict. For example if a person in your midst is upset, you can simply say,What is troubling you? How can I help? These simple phrases calm people down and demonstrate support.

Reaching out to Others
I find that school issues with students are often remedied by reaching out to family members. Stating the problem and asking for their support can work to help a problem. A simple note that states the facts of the matter and then asks, How can we work together to positively affect this situation? truly helps to mitigate troubling situations.

Restating the Problem and Writing it Down
If a person is angry, you might say, "Can you tell me again why you are so upset. I want to write down your words so I can specifically reflect on your frustration." This helps to focus the situation and gives evidence to reflect on later. This approach leads you beyond the individual's emotion to the exact issue that underlies their frustration, anger, worry, or dismay.

Mindfulness
I've historically not been a big fan of mindfulness because of the way some people use it--some people use it to quiet others rather than to build greater capacity. Yet, I know the value of good breathing, counting, quiet reflection, and other mindfulness techniques to focus and better resolve issues. This is yet another approach.

There are multiple positive ways to solve problems and energize others in your midst. Honest, authentic positivity does reign, and the more we can build that affect into our repertoire, the better we will be. Onward. 


Schoolhouse Tears

I typically cry about 4-5 times a year in the school house. I am a crier. I feel my emotions deeply and when expected supports are not there frustration sometimes turns to tears. While many don't cry, some of us do--it is who we are, and those tears signal a need for reflection, discussion, clarification, and potential change.

The tears arose yesterday when an expected support did not arrive. I was left with a difficult situation with regard to serving all my students well and had to make an on the spot decision about what was best. The tears arose from a lack of expected support and the feeling that I was on my own without the kind of care and support I expected. The situation led to questioning about reasonable expectations when events like that happen--what can I expect, what is the protocol that exists for situations like this, and what should I do if a similar event happens in the future? Fortunately the situation wasn't a dire situation--I rarely cry when situations are clearly out of our hands, severe situations. In those situations, I go into survival mode and prioritize easily, but when small issues are messy and unexpected, I become frustrated because I feel like we can do better with situations like that.

Every day in school there's a fair number of unexpected events--events that disrupt well made plans and routines. People get sick, family issues arise, children have conflicts, expected supports/materials don't arrive, and resources break. The unexpected is a daily expectation, yet how do we minimize the unexpected so that we can successfully employ positive routines and efforts to teach well? How do we streamline systems so that we mitigate the unexpected? How do we update routines and responses in this regard?

Some questions related to this that we face include the following:
  • What professional jobs are replaced with substitutes when teachers are sick, have personal days, or are caring for family matters? 
  • How are changes in staffing and daily plans communicated with lead time so curriculum plans can be updated and changed accordingly?
  • What are the expected times for daily events such as morning messages, afternoon messages, and dismissal? The more consistent and known these times are, the better our plans and efforts can be.
  • What are the routines for receiving extra support when unexpected events arise that require extra staffing? This is seldom needed, but important when needed.
  • What is the turn around time for questions regarding purchasing requests, curriculum support, and program development? 
  • How do we best address critical issues, challenging critique, and program development needs and ideas in positive, proactive ways? 
  • What goal setting processes are in place and how do we ensure that those processes are well made, inclusive, and positive with regard to building strong, dynamic teaching/learning communities?
The more fluid, positive, and understandable routines, protocols, and communication can be, the better our systems will run, and the better we'll be able to serve all students. Onward. 

Teamwork and Good Support

What do good teams require? What kind of support energizes teamwork?

Discussing and Debating Critical, Challenging Issues
Yesterday a teacher's frustrated plea led to a new and positive routine. As I listened to the educator and then others discuss the issue at hand at a routine meeting, it was clear that we could do better with that issue and we created a new routine which I believe will work well--a simple routine, but one that will help all of us to better serve students.

It's essential that teams are willing to discuss the challenges that exist in honest, empathetic, and straightforward ways. This is how betterment happens, and when we discuss these issues, it's also important to go hard on the problem, not the people as the book, Getting to Yes, suggests.

How can we make debate and critical discussion a regular part of our team meetings, and how can we deal with difficult issues rather than burying or ignoring those issues. We have to deal with the challenging as well as celebrate the good.

So one essential factor of teamwork and good support is addressing critical issues in ways that "go hard on the problem, not the people."

Regular, Inclusive, Good Communication
Another essential component of good teamwork is regular, focused communication. I always tell the story of my husband's former boss and now governor of Massachusetts. Every week he penned a meaningful letter to the staff. The letter told what was happening and inspired future action too. The letter motivated the entire staff and kept everyone in the loop of system information and goals. This kind of honest, straightforward, informative, and inspiring communication is essential to good teamwork. When information is lacking, incomplete, or without transparency, teams wane.

I continually advocate for better communication for all teams that I work with. Fortunately at the grade level we regularly communicate in a number of ways including hosting an online document for upcoming issues and decisions, impromptu meetings, and several regular weekly meetings to keep our teamwork strong and fluid. As a team we also maintain a website that includes almost all information related to the grade-level expectations and information. We write a weekly newsletter for students, colleagues, and family members too and regularly reach out via email and phones calls to families and respond to their requests and questions too.

Strong teams depend on good communication, and if a team is weak, one reason may be a lack of good communication.

Priorities and Positive, Consistent Routines
Good teamwork relies on shared priorities and positive, consistent routines. When teams clearly outline their priorities, their collective work profits. Fortunately where I work, our priorities are clearly outlined. Then it's important to meet those priorities with positive, consistent routines. While we have a good schedule, there's ways that we can advocate for more consistency in routines and expectations in order to meet those priorities. Some of our routines may be too tight and too many--I think we should look at reducing expectations a bit to make more good time for responsive teaching and learning. Some of our routines lack consistency as well due to staffing issues. We need to look at the routines that rely on adequate staffing and we may need to alter those routines due to the fact that staffing for some teaching/learning events is not consistent due to multiple reasons.

Reasonable Expectations
If team members expect too much, there may be undue friction and struggle, yet if they expect too little, there may be apathy and lack of progress. Reasonable, just-right expectations matter and need to be continually gauged as we work together. We have to ask ourselves if expectations are reasonable or if we need to be more flexible in particular areas and issues--what should we expect? What is reasonable?

In the days ahead, I'll think about the constructs above that affect teamwork. I'll work to support critical conversation, questioning, and debate in ways that matter. I'll also work with colleagues to promote positive routines, reasonable expectations, and good communication to strengthen our teamwork with the focus on teaching all children well. Onward.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Expect the Unexpected: Tomorrow's Plans

I am a planner. I like putting the pieces together with good thought for a promising plan. Yet, every school day presents a number of unexpected events--it never goes exactly as planned as in schools we're working with people, and with people comes lots of unexpected variability.

As I think ahead to tomorrow's plans, I want to add unexpected events to the agenda, as these events happen almost every day. Tomorrow will also find us at PLC to review MCAS scores, a math game tournament during Math Mix (Math RTI), portfolio prep, library, a meeting with the student teacher's supervisor, and our Friday Reflections website writing.

It's a full day of teaching and learning, a good day to come.

To push or not to push. . . .

Teachers everywhere wrestle with the question "to push or not to push" as they teach. Now some may retort that the questions should be how to inspire more, how to educate where students are intrinsically motivated, or how to support each and every learner with a personal response? But when you are teaching large groups of students towards mastery with specific skills, sometimes the question arises, should I push that student forward or not?

Wrestling with that question often finds educators asking these questions:

  • Is the student capable of meeting this challenge?
  • Is the student's lack of trying holding him/her back?
  • Will hard work now result in a giant leap forward with regard to confidence and skill?
Today as I taught I wrestled with this question. One child appeared to guess rather than dig in and apply good strategy. I pushed a bit and she responded by digging in and doing a much better job. I pushed another child a bit, but found that he was very confused with the material. It was clear that he needed a different approach, and I redirected his effort. With each child I supported, I thought about this question as I looked over their work, answered their questions, and asked them to do more or different. As I questioned, in the back of my mind was the desire to help every child forward their learning, concept, and skill--I want them all to achieve in just right ways with good progress.

Parents wrestle with these same questions as they mentor, coach, and lead their children forward too. It's the dance that both parents and teachers play.

To learn well is not always easy, and sometimes it requires a bit of a push. To teach well is similar--we have to wrestle with the question of how far to push a child ahead and when to provide a different kind of support and coaching. Onward. 

Why Practice?


We've all probably heard of Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule which means that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you become an expert. And we all know that what we do is who we are and what we become. That's why we have to be cognizant of our actions, how we spend time, and what we do day after day as well as the goals we have for ourselves and our lives.

As I dug into the data related to my teaching last year, I noticed that I needed to elevate the way I support student practice in math. Students who didn't do as well as others simply did not practice as much. Why didn't they practice? That question has all kinds of answers including the following:

  • little home support due to extraordinary circumstances
  • the type of practice I gave -- in some cases it was inaccessible due to the difficulty and amount
  • not enough good support with regard to organization, sticking to routines, checking over the work, and feedback
So this year, I'm focusing in on the area of practice with multiple efforts including the following:
  • a consistent weekly routine of at-home and in-school practice
  • regular review and response of student practice
  • regular meetings with students who are not meeting practice expectations to see how I can help more
  • contacting parents of students who need more support with regard to practice and working with them to find ways to support better and more practice
  • taking a close look at the kind of practice I ask students to complete as well as the amount and working for just-right fits in that regard
  • working with specialist teachers to design just-right practice opportunities for students who fall far from the mean of the class
  • time in class to catch up on practice, ask questions, and get extra help.
What has surprised me with regard to this goal is that so many children don't really understand the role of practice when it comes to learning. Many are just doing the work to get it done or receive a grade or response rather than to build their learning knowledge and capacity. They haven't solidified what it means to be a learner--a person that continually hones one's skills to master more and more knowledge, strategy, skill, and concept, a person who is reaching for betterment in life. 

Society, in part, is to blame for this. In our competitive society, we have emphasized being at the top and winning more than we have emphasized our development as happy, fulfilled individuals who build and maintain good lives on our own, with others, and in our communities and world. Now, however, I believe that most people recognize that winning is a relative term, and that it's better to seek knowledge and learning that fulfills us in ways that matter, ways that help us to live good lives. If you think I'm wrong about this, let me know as I'd like to hear your perspective.

In the meantime, I'll focus students in on what it means to practice, and the great strength that practice brings to our lives, ambition, mission, and happiness. Practice matters and I hope I'm successful in helping students understand this so that they can bring it forward in their lives and endeavors to reach fulfillment, happiness, and good living. Onward. 

Data Analysis Challenge

I do a deep dive into data during the summer months to assess my teaching. I try to cull from the data efforts that resulted in good performance and efforts that demonstrate room for growth.

This year when I shared my analysis with a few people I met with pushback. Some did not agree with my findings and others challenged the work I do. I've thought deeply about the pushback and challenge, and believe that if people really cared deeply about how the data is assessed they would meet with me and others with an open mind and good time to look deeply at the data, but it seems to me that some are not interested in a deeper dive or more open conversation related to what translates to good teaching and learning with regard to the data.

That's not a huge problem since our students do very well overall and the areas for growth are mostly specific and singular issues, and these attitudes and responses do not happen in all arenas of school life. While I know my analyses aren't perfect, I also know that my work is good as I've been doing this kind of analysis for years, and my efforts to teach well have improved over that time. To do better, requires deep, honest, open conversation and collaboration. Unfortunately where top-down hierarchies rule, there is little opportunity for this kind of open growth and development. That does not exist everywhere thankfully which does leave opportunity to develop and grow in ways that are meaningful and beneficial.

There are many ways to look at data. There are also many factors that contribute to the data. For example when you look at math data, the following factors matter:
  • readiness for learning math--students who play with legos, blocks, board games, drawing, creativity and more are generally more ready for math learning than those who don't get to creatively play often.
  • attitude towards math--in homes where math is met with enthusiasm and an excitement for learning, children typically do better than in homes where people fear or disdain math.
  • engaging math practice and math learning -- in situations where students have had a solid engaging, meaningful math background, those students learn better.
  • health, attendance, social-emotional readiness for learning - students who are healthy, attend school regularly, and have a positive social-emotional readiness for learning, do better.
  • apt support - since most schools today are full inclusion schools, we rely on the regular support of special educators and teaching assistants to provide support for many students. When this support is consistent, invested, and prepared, students do better.
  • best resources - schools where teachers have the best online and offline resources tend to create a better learning environment than schools where teachers don't have the materials they need to teach math well in multi-modal ways.
  • time on task - schools that make time for good teaching and learning support success. Time on task matters. 
  • professional learning - schools that support quality, responsive professional learning, generally support a more successful teaching/learning environment
  • teacher voice and choice - in schools where teachers are treated as professionals whose voice and choice are honored with good collaborative process create a more successful teaching/learning environment
  • tutors and extra help - often students who succeed have tutors or attend special programming after school related to the subject, this is an important factor that leads to success.
  • at-home technology - children who have access to technology at home and use that technology to forward their learning in positive ways, benefit.
  • good routines and rest - students who have good routines including healthy meals, adequate rest, and peaceful, supportive homes are generally more ready to learn.
  • teacher-student relationship - every year I am always astounded by the fact that the students I have the best teaching relationship with, do the best with regard to improvement and scores. Positive relationships are a key factor in student learning and success.
To truly analyze student performance, we have to look at multiple factors in deep and beneficial ways. The lens cannot be too narrow or exclusive, but instead we need a broad, inclusive lens to adequately assess student performance via a number of formal and informal assessments. This kind of broad, inclusive, open, and inviting analyses will help us to truly better the work we do together as educators. To assess well is not a one-size-fits-all process, but instead a multi-dimensional, collaborative process. Onward. 




What Matters Today?

Today is an ordinary teaching day. Since we've had many, many special events so far this year, I welcome this ordinary day.

What's on the agenda?

During math, I'll catch up with many students who need some personal attention related to recent assignments and learning points. Others will complete study packets on their own and with friends then work on bonus options. After math, students and I will continue reading Kwame Alexander's great book, Rebound, as part of our small RTI group. I'll also have students complete their first short reading assessment as one way to assess their comprehension development.

Later in the day, I'll continue to read James Printer, a Novel of Rebellion to students which takes them back to 18th century Massachusetts and the King Phillip's War. Then students will have a chance to visit the book fair and read books of choice--thanks to the wonderful care of parents and past teachers, almost every student in the class truly enjoys reading.

Finally I'll attend the weekly student service meeting where we'll discuss a number of issues including upcoming testing to update individualized education plans (IEPs) and more tailored teaching/learning approaches for specific students. I like the potential these meetings hold and believe that the more we update the process related to these meetings, the more we'll accomplish with regard to planning for the best possible student service.

After school I'll prep all materials for students' showcase portfolio work tomorrow, update the math learning menu for student practice, notify the teachers who lead our classes on Friday morning while we're at PLC about the learning menu updates, and prep for my math RTI group game too. It will be a busy, ordinary, positive teaching/learning day. Onward.

Portfolio Prep for Upcoming Conferences

On Friday students will begin go create their showcase portfolios. They will share those portfolios with family members at our upcoming conferences.

The showcase portfolios begin with an introduction to the child. This year that introduction will include a happiness survey and students' past-present-future timelines. These all-about-me pieces help everyone at the table to know and understand who the child is, what the child loves, and significant past and present events that affect the child's life as well as the child's dreams for the future.

Students will also share evidence of a few significant learning events including a writing piece that they will read to all who attend the conference and a list of books they have read so far. Students' stats related to a number of systemwide and state assessments will be shared and in the end, students will share their goals related to social emotional learning, math, and English language arts.

We've been inviting students to lead their conferences for years now. Most families choose to let the children lead, however there are times when the adults want to meet on their own. We let families make that decision. The family member-student-teacher(s) conferences are meaningful and celebratory times where we celebrate the wonderful learning a child has engaged in and make plans for the learning ahead. Good preparation is essential to this process.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Good Teaching Day

Every so often you leave school and think to yourself, that was a good day. Today was one of those days. It began with a successful math lesson moved to a terrific lesson by our naturalist coach about climate change and then recess, math practice, lunch, planning, read aloud, and a focus on the student teacher's terrific work with her supervisor. The day ran smoothly, the children were fully involved, and there was lots of positive learning. I'll take more days like this :)

Rethinking School Roles, Schedules, and Structure

I believe schools can be better, and I believe this betterment lies in rethinking old time school structure, routines, and roles. Changing our systems will improve schools.

As I think of this today, I am wondering about the role of cheerleader--to do any kind of human work, we need to be continually cheered on with good coaching, kind care, and supportive efforts. It's difficult to do this work on your own, and without the kind of energizing, thoughtful, and caring support, it's difficult to meet the potential possible.

Generally if systems adopt a servant leadership model, they will find that good energy is everywhere in the system, and that good energy will result in good teaching and learning. Servant leadership means that you adopt an attitude of serving those you lead in every way possible. For me that means serving students, families, and colleagues. For teacher-leaders that means serving the teachers so they can do their work well. I believe this kind of mindset truly empowers systems, whereas old time systems where people serve those above them rather than those beneath them on the hierarchy don't engender the same kind of potential-meeting good work.

The greatest frustration I have as an educator is the lack of voice and choice I continually face. I often feel like my role as teacher is a role of a child in a family situation, a child with little to no voice or choice. My words and ideas are mostly overlooked and to get any attention for new ideas, needs or materials, takes extensive time and effort. I continually hope for change in this regard, change in schools everywhere as I believe that flattened hierarchy, servant leadership, and greater voice and choice for all stakeholders will develop schools in ways that matter--ways that serve students better.

Coaching Myself From the Quagmire

Still smarting from the quagmire I found myself in last week, I am thinking deeply about my professional path in the days ahead.

As I continue to navigate multiple leaders, initiatives, and student/family needs and interests, I am considering what is most important with regard to good teaching and learning. I am coaching myself forward in this regard. I find that to get the energy I need to dig deep and move forward with strength and ability, I need this daily reflection and coaching.

What's on the agenda?

First and foremost is the need to support each and every student well. Right now my efforts in this direction include the following:
  • working with students to make sure they practice and master learning standards with meaning, enthusiasm, confidence, and skill
  • teaching students effective learning and practice strategies, advocacy, and resource use
  • helping students navigate the many conflicts that arise as they learn to work and play happily with each other
  • creating a cozy, welcoming, and supportive learning environment
  • planning and preparing effective, engaging learning experiences to teach the standards and more
  • teaching and modeling effective problem solving, decision making, and collaboration
The next priority is to support family members as they coach and mentor their children forward. To do this well requires the following efforts:
  • regular communication and response to parent questions and needs
  • thoughtful, student-centered parent-teacher-student conferences
  • access to needed materials, support, and information that may help families to support their children's successful learning and happiness at school
Further it's important to be a collaborative member of the learning/teaching team as we work together to plan for meaningful, engaging learning events, schedule lessons and services, and problem solve around student learning and their social/emotional needs.

With regard to long-term professional growth and effort, I will look to colleagues near and far to learn more about the work I do to teach well. My current learning direction includes these events:
  • Reading Timeless Learning
  • Attending and presenting at this Saturday's ATMIM Conference
  • Working with colleagues to meet the goals of the environmental education grant we are forwarding with Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm naturalists and educators.
  • Organizing and refining physical science efforts
  • Revisiting a number of tech platforms to see how those platforms have been updated and improved to support teaching and learning, then embedding useful components of those platforms into student learning.
  • Updating websites and teaching/learning materials on resource websites to aid teaching and learning efforts for all on the learning team.
Listen to system initiatives and get involved in areas that I believe may hold promise for the future of student learning and teaching. 

I continue to repeat again and again my direction since it takes this kind of cheerleading to move into areas of growth and development--areas that aren't that glamorous or interesting to many I work with, but areas, nonetheless, that spell greater success and positive learning for my students. Onward. 

Professional Learning: Learn with Students

Often time is an issue when it comes to professional learning and development for educators. A good win-win solution for this is to engage students in new learning opportunities that teach the teacher too. Our team has engaged in a number of these events over the past years by inviting experts into the classroom or signing on to expert programs at local teaching/learning organizations that teach us and the students at the same time.

For example, last week at Sturbridge Village we signed up for a presentation about food preservation in the 19th century. I believe we all learned a lot, and as an educator, I got a lot of new ideas about how I might integrate that knowledge into our science, math, and social studies classes in the future since many of the activities were a direct match for our grade-level standards.

Similarly, today, our natural coach will present a lesson on climate change. I've never taught this topic before so I'm looking forward to learning with students as the coach presents a standards-based approach to the subject.

When educators learn with students, educators can quickly see how the new learning can be successfully implemented in the classroom while they grow their own knowledge too. This is a good way to meet professional learning needs and teach children well too.

Do students understand the value of practice?

As I continue to dig into my student learning goal this year, I am wondering if students truly understand the value of practice. I reviewed a number of practice packets last night and found that an attitude of just get it done is pervasive. I want to change that attitude to an attitude of get it down with care and accuracy--take the extra step to reason through the problems, test your solutions, work with others and learn the information.

There are many ways that I can move the practice goal in this direction.

First, it's important that independent practice expectations are reasonable. I've greatly reduced the number of problems in these home study packets so that students are not overwhelmed. I've also instituted a weekly routine that I can keep up with so that every packet gets a teacher review. What I need to do know is engage the students in conversations about how they successfully practice. We need explicit conversation about this. Further, I may want to begin to share exemplars each week--examples of student work that is evidence of good practice efforts, and I need to remind students of the many supports available to them including Monday and Wednesday morning extra help sessions, online questions/conversations with the teacher, and newly added ability to work on study packets during the Friday morning math tech study time.

In general, the large majority are getting their practice done on time, but there's still a few I have to work with more to help them complete these weekly assignments. Helping students to acquire positive practice mindsets and routines, sets the stage for success in any endeavor they get involved in. I'm looking forward to working with students to forward this goals today. Onward.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Lost One

There was one that was lost.

Everywhere he looked, he tried to fit in, be accepted, and do what he thought was right.

He never stopped to consider the big picture.

Skittish he aimed to please, while never truly pleasing.

What was wrong, he wondered.

Then he learned that it wasn't about pleasing others, but instead about being who he was.

Sharing his gifts.

Being true to his abilities, vision, strengths.

When recognizing this, he was able to let go of his need to be accepted, and instead sought the company of like-minded people to grow himself with strength, love, and care.

Upon this acceptance of his unique talents and abilities

He found that he gained greater acceptance from others too.

His skills and talents were sought after,

And his contribution valued.

Why did he try to be something and someone he wasn't for so long?

Why couldn't he accept his shortcomings, and shore up his strengths instead?

Why did it take him so long to accept himself?

Why was he hiding in the bodies and minds of others instead?

In time, he might understand that, but for now, he was happy to be himself

And enjoy life as he never had before.

Going Forward: The Details

The teaching/learning ship was rocked last week by a list of unkind, derogatory comments aimed at me. The comments struck me like a knife and I've been reliving and rethinking each and every word for the past five days. As I think of those angry, hurtful words, I realize that most are untrue, some are exaggerated, and others point to a severe disconnect of what I thought was supported in the school house and what appears to be truly supported. In the end, and soon, I will reach out for greater clarity related to the painful words and statements.

In the meantime, and after great systematic thought, I want to point my learning/teaching ship in the direction of what I need to do now to teach and learn well.

Math Education: Practice
I'm really loving this year's math teaching goal which is to focus on the role of practice in learning math. As part of my goal, I am working to make sure that every child gets adequate and rightly directed math practice each week. I created this goal based on a score assessment of last year's teaching/learning efforts. I found that capable students who did not practice, did not do as well on standardized tests. I felt bad that these students did not meet their potential and could clearly see it was due to their lack of practice. Hence this year I'm focusing in on student practice.

So far this effort has demonstrated to students that I know what they are doing each week with regard to practice. I'm calling them up for meeting if they haven't completed their practice, and I'm helping them out if I notice that they don't have the skill or knowledge to complete the practice successfully. I'm offering extra help sessions and contacting parents if I need their support. All this work is helping me to build deeper teacher-student relationships and resulting in a more dynamic class focus and atmosphere too.

Good, veteran teachers have always known that practice is essential, and they also know that staying on top of each child's work and effort is imperative to teaching well. These kinds of efforts can be easily lost in the school house due to the limited time available to do this work. We see that successful school systems around the world typically make much more time for teachers to follow-up, analyze, and support student practice. That's something that U.S. schools need to consider more.

As I teach each standards unit in math, I'll continue this focus on practice adjusting as I go along to better support each student.

Embedding Standards into Environmental Education
Our efforts working with a naturalist coach finds me working to embed our science standards into relevant and engaging environmental education. There's lots to do in this regard including the following:

  • Focusing in on the properties and science of matter
  • Making an environmental studies resource area including ponding nets and more
  • Creating more outdoor environmental science education efforts
  • Studying systemwide resources and embedding those resources into this environmental effort
  • Discussing this effort with system leadership with respect to the future and support for efforts like this.
New Social Studies Standards: Read Aloud
While my colleagues are mainly focused on teaching the new social studies standards, I am doing my part by bringing the standards to life via special events and read aloud. I need to make time to complete this work.

Lit Mix: Reading RTI
My small reading group is reading Kwame Alexander's book, Rebound. We love it!!!!  There's so much to discuss and think about with respect to this book. I look forward to continuing this effort.

Math Mix
I manage a 20+ plus group of enthusiastic mathematicians during Math Mix. We'll begin with a discussion about math learning, then we'll engage in a large variety of math learning efforts during this one-hour a week effort.

Showcase Portfolios
In preparation for upcoming student-parent-teacher conferences, students will create showcase portfolios. They will use these portfolios to showcase their student profile, learning efforts, and goals as they lead upcoming conferences. 

Student Teacher
I'm working with the student teacher to create an interdisciplinary unit that she'll teach to my homeroom class and I'll teach to the other classes. The student teacher brings an enthusiastic, bright, and intelligent skill and perspective to my practice. The students love working with her. This is a positive endeavor.

There's much to focus on in the days ahead, and what's important is to keep the focus and get the good work done. Onward. 


Growing Programs and Teaching Well

While some may not support program development and growth, I will continue to invest in this work as I believe it is work that substantially improves what we do with and for children and their families. This is essential work when it comes to teaching well.

To grow programs with a lack of support is challenging as even to do the simplest things becomes a challenge yet to give up on this would be to give up on my students and colleagues. So what will I do to develop programs and teach well in the days ahead.

Field Studies and Special Programs
There is little to no systematic support for field studies and special programs yet these kind of events significantly and positively impact the teaching/learning program in multiple ways. Due to the lack of support, many teachers do not plan these special events or field studies. I am not prepared to give up on this, but I do want to discuss this issue with system leadership. I want to know if they support these kinds of learning events and, if they do support this kind of learning, how will they increase supports that help teachers with the following:

  • streamline paperwork
  • provide needed funding
  • provide greater staffing support
  • give teachers a personal break upon return from trips like this (when teachers take children on field studies, many support teachers get extra planning and prep time, perhaps those teachers could chip in and help out upon return to the school)
  • provide time for the needed planning and prep for these special events and trips. As it stands now teachers generally do this work during the summer or on their days off since these trips and events take a lot of time to plan and prepare for.
Grants, Professional Learning, and Program Development
To truly change programs in ways that matter mean that system leadership are open and willing to listen to educators and support their learning and ideas in ways that matter. Often teachers are left our of program development issues and their professional learning is not regarded with care. This is discouraging for teachers and leaves programs mired in old think and less student-centered connections. Too often money is wasted because program development is contracted by outside agencies or old time committee work rather than using modern processes that truly make a difference with regard to apt program development and change. To use good, inclusive process that respects the voice and choice of all stakeholders with regard to program development is to do better in this regard. I've looked beyond my system for this kind of support via grants, learning events, and connections to educators throughout the world yet I continue to face problems when it comes to integrating the good ideas I learn of into the programs at school since there often is little systematic support for this learning, development, or change. This is another area I want to think more about and discuss further with open minded district leaders.

Daily Efforts
Focus on the details daily results in good teaching and learning. These details are often obstructed by systematic issues related to staffing, space and tools for instructional material prep, last minute schedule changes or unreliable schedules, and more. These obstructions are frustrating and often finds teachers having to make one impromptu change after another to accommodate the missing staff, schedule change, broken copier, or lack of space. Part of teaching well is to be flexible, but when we don't truly think about what our priorities are and then do the best we can to match schedules, staffing, and resources towards meeting those priorities, we impede the progress and good work possible. Taking teachers' needs seriously is a first step to helping every educator meet the details of the job. When photo copiers don't work, that's a problem. When substitutes are not hired for needed staffing, that's a problem. When schedules change on a whim, that's a problem too. It's important that school teams decide what their priorities are, and then work to support those priorities in ways that translate to successful, sensitive service to students and their families.

There's much we can do to learn and teach well. When our system efforts support teacher/student goals and needs, we are more likely to reach our collective goals of teaching every child well. Onward. 


What is a job well done?

For my whole career, like most teachers, I've been trying to do a good job. I've been working to grow my practice in ways that empower, engage, and educate children well. I've met many challenges as I have worked to fulfill this quest. Why the challenges?

First, teaching is a limitless proposition. There's always more one can do to learn and teach well. Plus the world of education is constantly changing--new research, resources, and needs are continually shared which calls educators to continually learn, respond, and develop their practice.

Next, there are many, many limitations that challenge teaching well. The limitations include countless rules, budgets, space parameters, support needs, resource accessibility, time, and numbers. For example a good friend of mine had a class of thirty students last year. Many of those students had significant social/emotional needs. Her ability to teach well was greatly challenged by excessive student needs and a dearth of support. Reasonable class sizes, good support, and accessibility to apt resources are vital to teaching well.

Challenges also lie in system issues. When systems work well to serve children and their families, it's much easier to teach well, but when systems don't work well, challenges are great. I believe in servant leadership where systems work to serve the mission and the clients as a first priority instead of systems that become mired in politics, ineffective effort, and ego-driven action. Creating and managing good systems is challenging as the world changes, however I believe that when systems take the voice and choice of all stakeholders seriously and keep the mission upfront, those systems work well.

Schedules, roles, and routines can also challenge good work. When good effort is not made to streamline and focus roles, routines, and schedules in ways that matter, these system constructs can obstruct good work.

In any organization, there will be challenges. Like problems in one's individual life, challenges are a mainstay of organizational work. It's how systems and individuals work with those challenges that matter--the way that they take apart those challenges to understand why the challenges occur and what we can do to better our individual and collective work.

That leads me to the question this post poses, What is a job well done?

As an educator, to me a job well done is marked by the following attributes:
  • happy, energized children
  • sensitive, thoughtful, informed student care, attention, coaching, and teaching
  • a robust program
  • an inviting learning environment
  • student choice and voice
  • mastery of the standards
  • apt integration of both new and traditional resources such as technology, hands-on manipulatives, books, games, and more
  • real-world study, leadership, and impact
  • teamwork
  • cultural proficiency
  • inclusive perspective which invites and takes seriously the voices and choices of all stakeholders
As I think of these attributes, and the work I do, I would say that the efforts at our grade-level are quite successful. We generally meet the attributes above. The challenge lies in how we develop programs in inclusive, modern, and engaging, empowering ways. This is the area of greatest challenge in my work now. The ability to develop our work is stymied by systematic issues that, in my opinion, need updating with regard to modern growth and development. It's time to re-look at multiple structures that exist in order to enable more dynamic growth and development.

Where do I notice these systematic snags and how can we streamline and empower what we do as a system?

Most snags lie in outdated systems related to decision making, accessing tools and supports, and apt professional learning, development, and growth. There needs to be more dynamic processes in place to streamline systems that don't require a lot of thought and to study and deepen processes that impact deeper and better teaching and learning.

With regard to my individual practice, what does this mean?

First it means streamlining a number of systems that cause great stress and take lots of unnecessary time--systems like field trip and special programming efforts, purchasing needed materials, and getting needed teaching supports to meet all students needs.

Next it means uplifting our processes for teamwork with regard to curriculum development and growth. Many of our processes in this regard have been the same for years and don't go deep with regard to taking a detailed look at what we do and what we need to better serve students. I believe that a number of curriculum tools and processes need updating, and it's been a long time since we've taken a deep, collective, and inclusive look at this. I believe we're relying too much on old time think and practice in this regard rather than new age efforts and analyses.

The way we use time, tools, and individual talents and skill matters when it comes to developing our individual and collective ability to teach well.

For me, the best I can do now is to focus in on the individual children, their families, and my grade-level team. I can work to develop my practice and contribution to these teams in order to help every child develop skill, concept, and knowledge in engaging, empowering ways. 

There are many practices in place to do this, yet I wish there was greater systematic openness towards growth and development with regard to modern teaching and learning. I wish the system was looking at modernizing our teaching/learning tools and effect with greater depth and interest. 

I believe one step in the direction of making this happen would be to look carefully at who is working with children and to make sure that most people in the system have regular responsibility for student teaching and learning. This would build investment in the questions and work that really matter. This would also provide more support and care for children and their families. I also wish that we would look deeply at the metrics, both formal and informal, that demonstrate what we do to truly build our capacity to serve each child well and ready them for the world they will live in.

Sadly for some, a good job by a teacher is to stay silent, not risk, do as your told, and don't make waves. For many in charge, this type of teacher doesn't rock the boat and makes their work light and easy. Yet, when teachers stay silent, don't take risks, do as they're told, and never challenge, those teachers don't grow and neither do the systems they work in. To remain the same, is to not respond to an ever changing world of possibility and potential. 

With this in mind, I'll continue as I have done in the past. I'll continue to use resources and efforts that meet the attributes of good teaching, and I'll also continue to grow my practice in ways that I can via professional learning events, reading, teamwork, and trying out new and more modern ways to teach well. I want to continue my advocacy too, yet that work has been greatly challenged lately leaving me quite discouraged with regard to voice and choice--many disregard teachers' work and demonstrate little to no support for educators. This continues to be the worst part of being a teacher--you are often treated poorly and overlooked with regard to professional needs, interests, and desire to teach well. I have been working to change that throughout my career with little success. For this, I am at a loss right now, but I'll continue to think about it. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Problems that don't go away. . . .

People tire of problems that don't go away. They get tired of listening to those problems and sometimes begin to blame people for the problems rather than sitting down and working together to take the problems apart and figure out what's really happening. Conjecture and hearsay are welcomed by some who resist analysis, evaluation, and resolve.

Problems that continue demand new think, analysis, and discussion--these kinds of problems can't be wished away, swatted, strangled, or suffocated--these kinds of issues demand a deep look, clear understanding, and promising direction.

I try to take problems apart, see their origin, and make better. I write about problems a lot and try lots of different solutions, but rarely can one solve problems on their own--problems typically demand a collective look, discussion, effort, and resolve. To truly solve problems, particularly systematic problems, requires honest and dedicated commitment by all involved.

As I think of one problem that exists in my life, a problem outside of my professional sphere--I am thinking about all the people involved. It's a complex issue, an issue that has multiple possible solutions yet there are many that don't see the situation as a problem at all which is the first obstruction to solving the problem To solve a problem, you have to see it as a problem and you have to actively seek solution with others.

Today students and I will work on a problem. The problem is that some are not getting the practice they need to succeed in math. This problem has many parts. For example, one part is that the practice offered is too challenging for some students--they need practice that is a better fit for their ability level, time, and resources. Another challenge is that some students still don't understand the practice routines--they need to understand what's expected with greater clarity. I'm sure there are other problems related to this too, problems that will be revealed as I work with students to resolve this issue and make better. This problem will require buy in and effort from all to resolve.

Problems rarely just disappear. In general problems demand dedication, analysis, and collaboration to resolve. Problems are a natural feature in life's landscape and when we meet problems with the attitude that they hold promise for betterment, positive development, and growth, we typically can resolve those problems with positivity and gain. Onward.